North American Indian Folk-Lore and Legends, by Anonymous (1890)
Assignment 2: Find a corpus and analyze it using Voyant
by Løvetann Ripoll
I chose to look through a small corpus of Indigenous American literary texts in preparation for my thesis next year, focusing mainly on the gender representation in the selected text with a hypothesis that female characters were placed lower hierarchically in terms of representation.
At the Project Gutenberg website, the bookshelf “Native American” held the anonymously written collection, North American Folk-Tales and Legends, published in 1890 (Anonymous, “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Folk-Lore and Legends: North American Indian, by Anonymous.”)
Upon inputting the text (excluding the Project Gutenberg notes and “pg” for page) the most frequent words were: said, great, man, came and lodge (Sinclair and Rockwell). “Man” made the top five and prompted me to focus on the textual representation of gender in Folk-Tales. The results indicated to me that “men” and male gods, especially Manabozho, came up more often in the text than female characters. To verify this, I learned how to search for variants. “Man” was mentioned 146 times, “woman” 51, “men” 75, and “women” didn’t make it into the 40s. “Wife” was used 70 times, while the titles of “warrior” and “chief” came up 58 and 71 times respectively, titles presumably referring to men (for more on women chiefs and warriors, see “Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Tecumseh and Other Heroes of Native Resistance.”).
My research question became whether female figures were less prioritized in the text, and when present, were so most often as “wife,” a title that tying them to men. Conversely, then, the question included looking at whether the men in the text were represented more frequently in total, and whether they, when represented, were so in roles such as “chief” and “warrior” (this based on which words showed up in the 59 most frequently used words: see Sinclair and Rockwell.) Already at this point the research became problematic, as I will go further into below. For one, nouns such as “hunter” and “chief” may have referred to both men and women; for another, without doing close readings it was not viable to do named character searches, meaning that there might have been more named female characters than male, undermining the thesis of gender imbalanced representation.
It is important at this point that this hypothesis, that of women being less foregrounded than men in the text, was based on the reasonable assumption that the author, though anonymous, would most likely be a Anglo-male writing from a perspective. The stories he (if male) collected might be misinterpreting gender roles and hierarchy or even purposefully misrepresenting them to make the text more palatable for Anglo-patriarchal readers. Other issues of representation could be language barriers, and not in the least that North American Nations are not monocultural – as of October 2016, there were “566 federally recognized tribes” in the U.S. alone (see “List of Federal and State Recognized Tribes”). Generalizations about gender are challenging enough within a single nation, let alone when considering many hundreds (and from what I hear, some American Indians recognize over 600 tribes or nations).
All this to say: it is not an unlikely hypothesis that the filters of culture, language and gender, the end-product of Folk-Lore and Legends is likely to be guilty of misrepresentation Native American gender roles and more. The “prefatory note” of the collection praises the “Fantastic imagination, magnanimity, moral sentiment, tender feeling, and humour” of the “primitive” “Indians of North America,” (Anonymous). Here we have evidence of Anglo-stereotype of the “noble savage” (see Duane Champagne’s explanation of the derogatory nature of this in “Noble Savages and Noble Nations”). In conclusion, I do not expect the collection of folk-lore and legends that follows such a preface to be much more informed – that is, my kind of “informed,” which means intersectionally conscious of privilege and oppression between races, genders etc. – and although this initial experiment with Voyant cannot count as evidence, further research, I am confident, will support my hypothesis.
“About Open Library | Open Library.” Accessed March 11, 2018. https://openlibrary.org/help/faq/about#what.
Anonymous. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Folk-Lore and Legends: North American Indian, by Anonymous.,” Original book 1890. Accessed March 11 2018 at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22072/22072-h/22072-h.htm.
Champagne, Duane. “Noble Savages and Noble Nations.” Indian Country Media Network (news website), January 15, 2014. Accessed March 11 2018 at: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/history/events/noble-savages-and-noble-nations/.
“Getting Started | Voyant Tools Documentation.” Accessed March 11, 2018. http://docs.voyant-tools.org/start/.
“List of Federal and State Recognized Tribes.” Accessed April 1, 2018. http://www.ncsl.org/research/state-tribal-institute/list-of-federal-and-state-recognized-tribes.aspx.
“Project Gutenberg.” Project Gutenberg. Accessed March 11, 2018. http://www.gutenberg.org/. [Native American bookshelf accessed March 11, 2018 and located at: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Native_America_(Bookshelf)]
Sinclair, Stéfan and Rockwell, Geoffrey. “Summary.” Voyant Tools. 2018. Web. 1 April 2018. <http.voyant-tools.org>. Accessed April 1, 2018 at: http://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=b2e5232387dc6b8b70a4e81f3fa5202c&panels=cirrus,reader,documentterms,summary,contexts
“Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Tecumseh and Other Heroes of Native Resistance.” Indian Country Media Network (news website), July 28, 2016. Accessed March 11, 2018 at: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/free-reports/sitting-bull-crazy-horse-geronimo-tecumseh-and-other-heroes-of-native-resistance/. [Female warriors]